Even with the twist of newly shuffled tribes, this one felt a little flat. Maybe it was that Mister Plum's pre-game pics spoiled the likely boot. Maybe it was that the intense focus on Aras and Vytas felt like pure misdirection, since both emerged unscathed without really doing much more than making friends with the right people. Maybe it was that Kat had no story line whatsoever until this episode, so her boot lacked emotional weight, or meaning. It was still good Survivor, but it felt like it could have been better.
Monica and the bandit: Bludgeoning with a smile
Tyson put on an impressive show this episode, getting away with blatantly bagging on Aras's game (to his face, no less), in front of the entire new Tadhana tribe. Why did it work? Simply because he did it in a (half-) joking manner. This is a tactic we haven't really seen before (maybe Sandra's "I'm against you, Russell"?), perhaps because it required such finesse to pull off without seeming overtly threatening. And it's the type of play that Survivor should be pursuing, because it's entertaining to watch, in and of itself. Who can stay mad at the seemingly lackadaisical joker? Combined with his gleeful pilfering of Tadhana's food supply, we're thoroughly enjoying the Tyson Show this time around.
Monica and the bandit: Monica ascendant
Monica, as implied by the snake skin analogy the show used several episodes back, has already shed one scar of seasons past, when Colton quit. Brad, when he departed early in the episode, urged her to "sail" free of his perceived anchor. In ditching her last tie to loved ones or past seasons (Kat), Monica is truly playing for herself now. And despite her Culpeppery tendency to talk about herself in the third person, she's doing a credible job of it, remaining atop the Survivometer for the third straight week. At this point, if the winner is not a Baskauskas (which is seeming less likely each week), only Monica and Tyson seem to be getting winner-level attention from the edit. She's the honor, trust and integrity player, contrasting nicely with Tyson's rakish skullduggery. Is it too much to hope for a straight Monica/Tyson final two? Ha ha, just kidding. We know better than to hope for a final two.
Adieu, Brad Culpepper!
For all the fireworks at the previous Redemption Island duels, the ones in which Brad has been competing have been positively genteel. Which is a bit sad, and sadder still that there's now no chance of future Brad-related outbursts. Still, we were happy with Brad's calm, balanced exit, which gave proof to his professed "it's a game" mentality. And finally: Thank you, thank you, thank you, Brad Culpepper, for refusing to honor Probst's pandering pleas for you to wax poetic about football before leaving Redemption Island. This is Survivor, not The NFL Today. When Candice left, did Probst ask her, "Which is tougher, Candice? Performing surgery, or stacking spools on a springy thing?" No, so thank you for being humble. In return, we forgive you for whatever.
All or nothing
Last week there were two puzzles at Redemption Island, and none at an immunity challenge that could have been staged at the local Chuck E. Cheese to save on set building. This week, the formula was reversed, and the duel was the designated "challenge your kindergartener can do in your back yard," and the immunity challenge was both physically grueling and was equalized by a devilishly difficult puzzle. A little better balance wouldn't hurt, guys. And by the way, when every person watching criticizes a challenge the first time it's used (the duel was "A Numbers Game" from Redemption Island), maybe it would be a good idea to dig a little deeper when exhuming your past work for a duel.
Just a few months ago, during Caramoan's tribe swap, we complained at length about the gross unfairness of the swap mechanism, one that was ridiculously gerrymandered to engineer a returning player majority on each new tribe. So in the spirit of fairness, we feel obligated to record our support for the way the switch was done here. Leaving it completely up to chance created an interesting dynamic in the new tribes. While a schoolyard pick might have exposed a few more hidden agendas, this was still interesting to watch unfold. And above all, it was fair.
The man who wasn't there
Vytas so successfully blended into the environment of New Galang that multiple times, people talked openly about taking him out while he was standing (or sitting) right there. Monica coming back from the well: "We made a pact. We were gonna vote out Vytas... sorry about that." Kat at Tribal Council: "If we [the women] all make it to the merge, I feel that we should always stick together!... [turning to Vytas] I mean... no offense. No offense." None taken, Kat! Your One World is big enough for everyone, especially after you leave it.
Overselling it, just a tad
Even though he did a masterful job of avoiding an otherwise easy boot, Vytas's "We will stay strong" attempt at solidifying his position with the women of Galang at Tribal Council seemed more than a bit forced and awkward. Vytas, as far as we were shown, was not promised anything beyond that one-time Tribal vote. Even if he did make some long-term pact that wasn't shown, nobody in their right mind ought to believe that post-merge, he's going to stick with a bunch of randomly selected women he's just met, certainly not over Hayden/Caleb and/or his brother. Come on.
Overselling... wait, why are you even advertising it?
Perhaps the most bizarre Tribal Council sequence, however, was Tina's completely unforced gushing of "Hey everyone! Look at me and my daughter, Katie! We're together, on the same tribe! We're a pair!" For unknown reasons, while everyone in the game is worried about the Aras/Vytas pair, not one person on New Galang seemed the least bit concerned about the Tina/Katie duo. Good call bringing it to everyone's attention right before the vote, Tina!
Postscript: Shifting balance of power
In previous seasons, Probst made note that the jury phase marked the gradual shift of power from those playing the game to those who will ultimately decide the winner. This season, a second balance has shifted - between those with a loved one still playing, and those without. Early single life adopters Tyson and Gervase seem to have a lot of power to go with their freedom, while the Baskauskas brothers, one of two active pairs remaining, each seem to be in danger because their loved one is still playing. Even with Kat's boot, New Galang still has a majority of paired-up members (Tina, Katie, Vytas) in its five. New Tadhana, in contrast, has a majority of solo players (Tyson, Gervase, Caleb), two with a loved one on Redemption Island (Ciera, Hayden), and just Aras with a still-active loved one. So much for any hoped-for Philippines-esque confederacy of pairs at the merge.
I'm still here. Mission accomplished. Also: roar.
Wow, Laura M. was really mad when I stabbed her in the back. Eh, probably won't come back to haunt me.
Bad news, Gervase. The whole #CoconutBandits thing was fun while it lasted, but I'm putting out a solo album.
Well, uh, good for you, I guess. What are you gonna call yourself?
My solo name? It's a secret.
It's not really a secret, I just used my magical mind control powers to put him at ease. It's for the best.
I'm not going to be in the rest of this episode? Normally I'd be upset, but I feel strangely okay with it.
Sorry, Ciera. Just don't do anything crazy, like swapping out for your mom.
Good news, everyone! Today's duel has no puzzles. We exceeded our quota last week.
I feel like maybe I should swap out, or something.
Don't be silly, Ciera! You're 15 minutes away from a tribe that can actually win challenges.
Laura gets out to a quick, insurmountable lead.
Putting numbers in order: Just as exciting to watch in person as it is on TV
Yes! I can count to 100! Woo!
Looks like Brad has found a new rock during those cold, lonely nights at Redemption.
I could yell and scream like those others, but I'll bite my tongue, instead. Ow.
Nobody wants to hear about football, Probst.
Hug you, Brad Culpepper!
Yeah! Black (tank top) Power!
Monica reflects on having to play the game alone. You know, like normal Survivor.
For the love of everything that is good and holy, Vytas, please don't burn this clue
Somewhere in the art department, an intern is sobbing quietly, as their third straight hand-lettered clue turns to ashes.
This swap is almost as exciting as Doritos!
Jeff, can you also uncork it for me? I'd just like to see how many liberties I can take here.
One of these people is not like the others! (It's Laura Boneham. She's wearing tie-dye.)
Aras is now the king of a new tribe, probably
In mere hours, the Coconut Bandits have already found Hayden's Achilles heel
Coconut banditry: not just for coconuts anymore
I think I'm being pretty generous by not eating ALL the food myself
Smiles, everybody! Your food service has arrived!
Shockingly, Tina is excited about having Katie on her tribe
Vytas, however, goes from Five Guys to No Other Guys
Five women, plus one guy about to be crushed by a bamboo pole
Monica floats a crazy, convoluted strategy: sticking together
So... Katie is not included in this? Or is it Laura B?
How dare she include me in her alliance? It's too much!
That Aras and his excessive agreeableness! What a monster!
Wait a second. That wasn't very nice, Tyson.
Katie enjoys a second run through Vytas's uplifting prison stories
There's something about Vytas reminds me of Rupert. Roaring? No. Tie-dye? No. Beard? Ah, that's it.
The New Tadhanas are ready to commence winning stuff
So is New Gala...ah, who are we kidding?
Nothing says leaving it all out on the playing field quite like a pair of snorkeling masks
Don't let that fool you! Gervase can actually swim, Probst.
Swimming: also good for Tina and Laura B. Following directions will come in time, probably.
It's a trap!
No, seriously. It's a fishing trap that you were supposed to bring back.
That's the one
Why is Tyson still dripping wet?
Somehow, Galang has caught up
If Kat says your puzzle's done, it must be true! Woo, Galang!
All right, the last one was a false alarm, but we've clearly got it this time! Look at that bush/fish-head thingy on the left!
Okay, THIS time, it's clearly right! Look at the yin-yang thing!
Maybe only the red pieces work? Either way, both tribes are winners, for making it close
But in another, more accurate sense, Tadhana actually wins
Why couldn't I have taken the tube Tyson picked?
Tina is very sorry that she'll have to vote one of you out tonight
Vytas feels Tina's pain. Probably.
Monica is way too schemy, Tina. Also she's an old hag, amirite?
I'm starting to think Kat may not be here for her strategic gameplay
You're talking about Vytas, right? No, wait, the subtitle's on me. Darn it.
Do unto others as you whatever
The kiss of death. Or whatever fire-snuffing counts as in Redemption Island seasons
The new Galangs head to their first Tribal together
I just wanna say: Stay the course, 1000 points of light, stay the course
Please don't interrupt the professor while he's lecturing, Kat
Okay, non-blindsides aren't all that fun, either
Recaps and commentary
Exit interviews - Brad Culpepper